Commissioner of the NSW Police Force
Born in: London, UK
Friends: Kristina Keneally | Morris Iemma | The Daily Telegraph
Foes: Australian Hotels Association
Andrew Scipione is the rarest of beasts: a popular police commissioner. And, as we recently reported, he's the only one in NSW in two decades to be appointed by both sides of politics.
"He's a top cop, a good cop, and a straight shooter with strong ethics," former premier Morris Iemma tells The Power Index.
"He's without doubt, one of the most decent men ... most ethical men that I have ever met," says his predecessor Ken Moroney.
"He's someone who makes decisions without fear or favour," agrees current premier, Barry O'Farrell, "someone who has always made decisions on the basis of public interest".
Remarkably, even civil libertarians seem reasonably happy with his work. So why on earth is Skippy so popular? One reason may be that police officers are doing their job properly at last.
"Before the Police Royal Commission, police were drunk at lunchtime, taking bribes and never did any work. Now they're on the job," a former NSW premier tells us bluntly. "And while the force isn't yet corruption free, it is corruption resistant, instead of corruption prone."
A consequence of this improved work rate is that crime figures are falling, with 17 out of 17 official indices heading down. "NSW is performing better than any other state," NSW Police Association president Scott Weber tells The Power Index.
And Scipione can certainly claim some of the credit. First and foremost, he has been the driving force behind a crackdown on alcohol-fuelled violence and an accompanying drop in assault rates.
Scipione is a devout Christian and a teetotaller, but he claims that's not what got him going. It was seeing one of his officers get glassed. "It's horrific," he tells The Power Index in an hour-long interview, "it's like a gun in the face".
Between December 2007 and March 2008, there were 30 glassings in the top 50 hotels in NSW, says Scipione, "So I went to the government and said, 'That's got to stop'. We decided the best solution was to take away the weapon. So we brought in polycarbonate cups after midnight. Glassings in the same period next year were nil. Think of the pain and suffering that has avoided."
Further curbs on late-night drinking have been imposed since them, starting with trials in the centre of Newcastle, where 15 pubs reached capacity after midnight as suburban pubs closed. Often there was a bloodbath at dawn when drinkers were finally thrown out onto the streets. Scipione wanted these pubs shut at 2am. Instead, Premier Iemma allowed them to lock their doors but keep on serving those already inside.
Police and politicians alike agree it was a success.
Since then, three other NSW premiers have given Scipione more of what he's asked for, with 41 NSW pubs now subject to restrictions ranging from bans on shots and doubles after midnight to 2am lockouts. There's also O'Farrell's new "three strikes and you're out" law.
But Scipione still wants more. "It's all about public safety and security," he says, "And the single biggest obstacle is the misuse of alcohol." He reaches for his crime statistics booklet for June and flicks through to street crime, where his figures record that 74% is still associated with alcohol.
So what more can be done to make Sydney safer?
"We can't arrest our way out of the problem," he says. "It's about cultural change, about people not drinking until they fall over." A recent Woollongong University study suggests that could take 30-40 years. Scipione hopes to turn it round in half that time. "It's about sending messages," he says.
Another message he wants to send is about police culture. And here's an even bigger clue as to why he's so popular.
"The police have to realise the community owns them, not the other way around", he tells The Power Index several times. "We're here to serve, not to be served".
Scipione took on the top job in September 2007, one day before Sydney was locked down for the APEC summit. As he waited for the arrival of 25 world leaders, he was already focusing on what he could achieve with his power.
He called in his director of corporate services, Catherine Burn, (recently voted 2011 Telstra Businesswoman of the Year), and told her, "I want to take the police force to a place it's never been before. I want a relationship with the community that's second to none."
The first step in the process was to discover what the public really thought. Scipione employed "secret shoppers" to ring police stations and focus groups to discover what people wanted to change. "It's been extraordinarily good for us," he says.
Four years later, Sydney is perceived to be a safer city, and the tub-thumpers at the Telegraph are rooting for him. But a more startling development is that complaints about police behaviour are now coming more from inside than outside the force.
That would have been unthinkable 20 years ago, when the unwritten law was that you never dobbed in a mate. "The Police Royal Commission was medicinal," says Scipione. "It needed to happen."
"Twenty years ago you couldn't go to a police station in NSW that wasn't wet," he says. "Now you won't find one that is." That's because NSW Police officers now undergo random breath tests. They also face tests of integrity and stings to test their honesty. And they have the Police Integrity Commission watching over them.
Asked in 2007 if he had ever been offered a bribe, Scipione said he had. "That person was put before a court and convicted," he added. He also admitted he had dobbed in a mate. "There's only one thing I have zero tolerance for," he tells The Power Index, "and that's police corruption".
Scipione is an immigrant success story. Born in London to an Irish mother and Italian father, he came to Sydney as a child and left school at 15 to become an electrician.
On his journey to the police commissioner's office he has worked as a customs officer, a traffic cop, an NCA investigator, a surveillance expert, head of internal affairs and chief of staff to Commissioner Peter Ryan.
"I'm a pretty basic bloke, a fair-dinkum, knockabout bloke," he has claimed. But he's hardly run of the mill: he's a Baptist, a teetotaller and a surfer. "I used to catch the train from Bankstown to Cronulla," he tells The Power Index. "I don't get time these days, but occasionally I go down the south coast."
Scipione's average day starts with a crime report faxed at 5am. His last call is generally around 11pm. Sometimes people wake him in the middle of the night. He always takes their calls. "You need to be a good sleeper in this job," he says.
He does have some critics but, apart from the liquor industry, they're mainly sotto voce. The NSW Ombudsman worries about the powers Scipione has obtained to lock down the city against riots and potential terrorist attack, but accepts they've been used sparingly. The Ombudsman and NSW Council for Civil Liberties can also be scathing about police using sniffer dogs to target casual drug users (instead of drug dealers, as the law intends).
During one such raid in a Newtown pub in 2008, lawyer Kristian Bolwell was pushed to the ground, kneed in the back, handcuffed and charged with hindering police after trying to give his business card to someone who was being searched. The charges against him were dismissed, and costs awarded against police, whose evidence was contradicted by CCTV footage.
Bolwell then won damages in a civil case, which was settled out of court, but he has still not received an apology. The Power Index asked why not. We're still waiting for the answer. So it seems the police and Skippy still have some way to go.